The QB play wasn’t always pretty on Saturday, but Denard Robinson made enough plays in the end with both his arm and his legs to put Michigan in position to win the game. Robinson completed just 48% of his passes on the day but converted some critical 3rd down passes to extend drives. Denard took care of the ball for the most part, but there were several occasions when the ball was thrown up for grabs. When the offense continues to struggle in games Robinson has tended to press and try to force plays that aren’t there. Denard didn’t press the issue as much this game but there were still a few “oh no” moments on Saturday. Denard threw behind a wide open Jeremy Gallon in the end zone and misfired on a pass to Roy Roundtree in the end zone early in the game. When plays needed to be made on the final drive however, Denard made them. No play was bigger than the 19 yd. pass to Drew Dileo that setup the game winning FG.
Reads continue to be an issue for Denard in the run game. While in some cases it would not have ultimately made a difference in the success of the play, Denard missed several key reads on the zone read. The fact that Denard hasn’t completely mastered the zone read after 3 years as the starter continues to bewilder. Denard did have the best rushing performance that he’s ever had against the Spartans on Saturday. It took 20 carries for Denard to eke out 96yds on the ground, 44 of which came on a single run.
Denard accounted for all but 67 of Michigan’s 326 yards on Saturday.
After what occurred in last week’s game, there was an expectation that Michigan would continue to use a running back by committee approach. The expectation never materialized as Michigan used Fitzgerald Toussaint on nearly every snap. Fitz probably should have received more touches as he gained 52 yds on just 10 carries (5.2 ypc). Saturday was probably the first game in which Fitz actually looked like the back Michigan fans saw last year. Fitz was decisive, didn’t go down easily, and finished off his runs with physicality. In a game where yards were hard to come by, Vincent Smith had a big 12 run to kick off Michigan’s game winning drive.
Stephen Hopkins returned to action on Saturday while he didn’t make any huge plays, Michigan used more 2 back sets in this game than they have since the start of the season against Alabama.
The man of the hour from the WR core remains Drew Dileo. Dileo has made his share of plays over the last 2 years at Michigan but never really had a breakout performance. That all changed on Saturday when Dileo burst on the scene, averaging 23yds per reception. Dileo was fired up throughout the game and didn’t hesitate to talk to his Spartan counterparts, something that drew the ire of Brady Hoke. Dileo has a knack for finding holes coverage and has some of the best hands on the team. Jeremy Gallon had his customary big screen play, something Michigan curiously didn’t go back to throughout the game. Devin Funchess came very close to having another huge game and would have likely pulled in another nice jump ball in the end zone if not for a great play by a Spartan defender. Devin Gardner unfortunately returned to having a case of the dropsies. A big play was left on the field because Gardner was unable to haul in a pass that hit him in the hands, even thought the ball was underthrown.
Michigan has played several stout front sevens this season, Michigan State was no exception. Dealing with a potent front seven always begins and ends with the offensive line. Michigan’s offensive line faced a stiff challenge on Saturday, because of both the talent that lined up across from them and what they were asked to do. Taylor Lewan was hobbling around on the sidelines and after the game but within the confines of the field, he was an animal. Lewan has been battling an injury since the Alabama game and in all likely hood isn’t close to 100%. Injuries issues didn’t stop Lewan from treating Will Gholston like a chew toy. Lewan got the best of Gholston in last’s year match up to the point where Gholston’s frustration resulted in a punch being thrown. There were no punches this year but there was plenty of frustration. Considering the fact that Michigan State constantly put more defenders in the box than Michigan had for blockers, the offensive line did not play as poorly as the stats would indicate. There were several miscues and blown assignments but for the most part the offensive line identified and blocked who they were supposed to, that didn’t stop free defenders from making plays however.
Michigan has been gashed by Sparty for the last 4 years. Run defense against Michigan State is an issue that is primarily responsible for the Spartan’s 4 game win streak leading up to the game. Stopping the run, especially a downhill attack like the one used by Michigan State, requires a herculean effort from the defensive line. Michigan’s defensive line has transformed itself in just a few short weeks. It took a joint effort but Wolverines finally won the battle at the line of scrimmage against the Spartans. Craig Roh has begun to come into his own in the run game as the strong side defensive end. Roh often has to fight through both the tackle and a TE or FB and has now reached the point where he can do it successfully and still make plays. There are times when Roh even lines up at DT and while he hasn’t made a ton of plays that show up in the stat sheet, his impact cannot be understated. Will Campbell and Quinton Washington don’t make a ton of individual plays. They rarely toss opposing linemen aside make huge plays behind the line. They have become very adept at disrupting opposing blocking schemes making plays in pursuit. Sometimes just knocking a guard off his route or occupying an extra blocker is enough to allow someone in the back seven to make a play.
It is becoming a broken record but Jake Ryan is well on his way toward All Big 10 status. Ryan was left off of the Butkus Award semifinalists list but his play has been nothing short of that status. Ryan makes a ton of plays in space but it is when he has a hand on the ground or blitzes that his skill set is really on display. Ryan has a knack for dipping under the pads of opposing linemen on his way to the QB or the ball carrier, sometime most of Michigan’s defensive ends have yet to master. Kenny Demens always seems to be the right spot on short yardage plays. For whatever reason teams choose to leave Demens unblocked on shortage plays, allowing him to knife his way into the backfield or make the stop right at the line of scrimmage. Desmond Morgan had the quietest 11 tackles of his career. Six of Morgan’s tackles were assisted which probably helps explains why his play didn’t pop off the screen.
Overall the LBers accounted for 27 of the team’s 70 tackles on the day and were instrumental in holding one of the best RBs in the country to 68yds on the ground with a 2.6ypc average.
Michigan State did not hesitate to test Michigan’s secondary downfield. For much of the season opposing teams have picked their spots and thrown downfield on an occasional basis. Sparty allowed Andrew Maxwell to deep pass after deep pass and the Wolverines secondary did a decent job in coverage. Michigan State seemed intent on going after J.T Floyd downfield and with more accurate passes they may have been able to take advantage. Floyd was slow out of his back pedal and times which allowed the opposing WR to get the jump on him. Floyd did show good make up speed and ball skills, knocking away several passes would have been caught otherwise. Raymon Taylor was not tested as much as Floyd but he was asked to make his share of plays. Brady Hoke talked in the postgame about the need for tighter coverage in the secondary. A response to the fact that the corners were a step or two away from make several big plays in the passing game that would have prevented completions
Jordan Kovacs is laboring out on the field thanks to a knee injury but he was gifted an interception by Maxwell that he returned for 25yds. The number of plays in the backfield that Kovacs has made is down from last year but that is to be expected considering what he’s going through physically. Thomas Gordon had a rough day at safety. Gordon gave up 45yd pass in one on one coverage and had issues tackling in space. He finished the game with six tackles but left quite a few big plays unmade out on the field.
What else is there to say about Brendan Gibbons? 2 years after not being able to hit it between the uprights from 25yds out Gibbons now plays with ice water in his veins. Michigan fans should have had full trust in Gibbons after the game winner against Virginia Tech, no there is no doubt that Gibbons can be trusted in high pressure situations. Matt Wile boomed a 48yd FG will room to spare in the 2nd quarter. Wile’s leg has been on display all season as a kickoff man but this is the first time that fans have gotten to see the power of his leg when kicking FGs.
Jeremy Gallon had a great punt return right that likely would have set up a scoring drive had there been more time on the clock. Dennis Norfleet only had the opportunity to return one kick, which went for 21yds.
The kickoff and punt coverage teams have played extremely well throughout the season. Normally coverage and return units only get mentioned when someone really good or really bad happens. On Saturday, the really bad is what put the spotlight on the return unit. Only the coaches know what the call really was but for whatever reason Michigan vacated the edge of the punt unit pre-snap and rushed the middle of the punt formation. Michigan State quickly took note and Mike Sadler took the very next punt 26yds to setup a score. Losing contain is never a good thing for the defense and it certainly isn’t a good thing for the special teams unit.
A: Unit played as close to flawless as possible. Unit played well enough to win the game on their own.
B: Unit had a major positive impact on the game but also had several assignment/execution miscues.
C: Unit did not negatively or positively affect the game. Unit made key positive plays along with several errors.
D: Unit made multiple critical errors that could potentially cost the team a win. Unit blew assignments and had poor execution across the board.
F: Play of the unit was bad enough that it could directly cost the team a victory.
Note: Plus and minuses denote degrees of the grade.